Everything points to a dramatic climax in the final weeks of the French Ligue 1 season.
By Christian Châtelet
With less than two weeks of the French season remaining, the title race is gearing up to be one of the closest in recent memory with just three points separating the three top clubs.
Fixtures on Tuesday and Wednesday this week may go a long way towards deciding whether Olympique Lyonnais take a third consecutive title or whether UEFA Champions League heroes AS Monaco FC or in-form Paris Saint-Germain FC steal their thunder.
Third-placed PSG travel to FC Girondins de Bordeaux on Tuesday, and could finish the evening level on points, 73, with Lyon. However, the league leaders host SC Bastia on Wednesday, although should they slip up, a win at RC Strasbourg could send second-placed Monaco clear at the top.
Tensions are high enough this week, but they can only increase as PSG play host to Lyon in their penultimate game this Saturday. It is PSG's final home match, sandwiched between trips to Bordeaux and Bastia, and should they fail to overcome Lyon, it could spell the end for Vahid Halilhodzic's side.
Paul Le Guen's Lyon, meanwhile, know that a draw may be enough to eliminate PSG from the title equation, as their remaining home games against nowhere-bound Bastia and Lille OSC should present less of a challenge than those of their competitors.
Monaco are hard to rule out. Their attentions may be on the Champions League final, but as Ludovic Giuly's late winner against Olympique de Marseille at the weekend proved, even a tired Monaco can be a match for anyone in Ligue 1.
With the likes of Giuly and Jérôme Rothen on the wings and strikers Fernando Morientes and Dado Pršo, Didier Deschamps' team are arguably the strongest in France at the moment, but should Sidney Govou recover from injury in time, Lyon could return to their sparkling early-season form.
What PSG can boast more than their rivals is resilience. Unbeaten since 28 March, they are brutally efficient and hard to break down. They have conceded just six goals in their last ten games, and the fact they have won ten matches 1-0 this season speaks volumes.
Danijel Ljuboja and Pedro Pauleta may be PSG's eye-catching striking duo, but the real strength in Halilhodzic's ensemble lies further back where captain and central defender Frederic Déhu and goalkeeper keeper Jérôme Alonzo have been outstanding.
Without a title since 1994, PSG will arguably be the hungriest of the three contenders, but while Monaco's attentions might lie elsewhere, Lyon do not lack motivation as they face the prospect of joining Marseille and AS Saint-Etienne as one of just three clubs to have won three consecutive French titles.
"We want to make history," said Lyon keeper Grégory Coupet, showing the kind of commitment that helped Lyon close a ten-point gap between them and Monaco since January. "Now we launch the sprint", said president Jean-Michel Aulas, as he anticipated another success for his team.
However, Lyon's form in recent weeks has been underwhelming, and PSG may prove too much for them. Meanwhile, with away games at Strasbourg and Bordeaux and a home match against Stade Rennais FC, Monaco will watch Saturday's game with interest. A UEFA Champions League and Ligue 1 double remains an improbable possibility.